If you feel that you’re not getting enough sleep at night, and are overly tired during the day, you’re not alone. Adults are supposed to get between seven and nine hours of sleep; however, the CDC reports that 35% of Americans get less than the necessary seven hours. Insufficient sleep is one major cause of excessive daytime sleepiness, which is thought to affect up to 18% of the U.S. population.
This sort of sleep deprivation and daytime fatigue can lead to serious consequences both personally and professionally. A lack of sleep impacts both physical and mental health. People who sleep poorly are at higher risk for high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and obesity. They are also at risk for developing anxiety and depression.
In the workplace, excessive sleepiness can greatly increase the likelihood of a workplace accident, which can result in injury and even death. Sleep deprivation also has a significant impact on other aspects of job performance, including productivity, task management, and meeting goals.
These workplace accidents can have dire consequences. In a Swedish study of over 50,000 workers, those who self-reported disturbed sleep were twice as likely to die in an accident related to the workplace.
Sleep deprivation leads to cognitive impairment. It degrades cognitive processing, affecting everything from memory to reflexes. With less sleep, your reaction time slows. This means you make decisions less quickly and accurately. You’re also more likely to misjudge your own abilities and take unwise risks. As a result, excessive sleepiness can lead to consequential errors and accidents that gravely impact the workplace.
In many industries, a lack of sleep is an enormous safety issue. Sleep deprivation in pilots, truck drivers, shift workers, and medical residents, for instance, leads to an increased risk of dangerous errors near misses.
Sleep-deprived workers who drive as a part of their job are particularly in danger of drowsy driving, which can also have serious consequences. Drivers who get six hours of sleep or less are 33% more likely to have an accident on the road, compared to those who get seven or eight hours of sleep. Driving while sleep-deprived has the same or worse impact as driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05%. For comparison, the federal legal BAC while driving in the United States is .08%, and many states have lower limits.
Healthcare workers are also at risk of drowsiness impacting their work, especially because they tend to work long shifts or work overnight. A study of 100 nurses revealed that cognitive performance was significantly impaired in night shift workers demonstrating, for instance, that nurses working the night shift made 32% more mathematical errors than nurses working the day shift. This was attributed to poor sleep quality and decreased alertness.
Several infamous workplace accidents were directly and indirectly caused by excessive sleepiness or sleep deprivation.
In addition to workplace accidents resulting in injury or death, a number of other issues can arise in the workplace due to sleep deprivation.
Both inside and outside of the workplace, sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality have adverse effects on overall physical and mental health. Education on sleep and attention to sleep hygiene are crucial steps to improving sleep, bettering health, and promoting safety in and out of the workplace.